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Community Healthcare System Expanding Behavioral Health Reach Serves Northwest Indiana


For more than 50 years, one health system's mental health division has stood above all others in delivering compassionate and expert care to some of society's most vulnerable members.

In the 1960s, St. Catherine Hospital of East Chicago opened Behavioral Health Inpatient service to evaluate and treat adult patients who presented with psychiatric and mental illnesses.

"The Adult Inpatient unit is where all of this started," said Kevin Zwiers, Community Education Manager for Behavioral Health Services (BHS) of Community Healthcare System.

Since that time, the hospitals of Community Healthcare System have been working to improve programs and resources and change views toward mental illness. Despite decades-long quality care, and a multi-million dollar renovation of the Adult Inpatient unit in 2013 to create a state-of-the-art treatment center, BHS’ staff recognized services were relatively unknown to facilities outside St. Catherine Hospital.

When Zwiers was hired in 2014, he saw a chance to raise awareness.

"We set up meetings with the nurse managers at our sister facilities to discuss the benefits of our services - treating the body, spirit and mind of patients - and the importance to the continuum of care," Zwiers explained. "We saw an area of opportunity to educate those individuals, because we wanted to make sure our system was ‘on the same page’ prior to going out into the community."

Thus began a partnership between all of the nurse managers and the administrators in the hospital system.

“Our goal was to educate any and all – from dietary and environmental services to nurse practitioners,” Zwiers said.

Behavioral Health Services staff offered verbal skills training to de-escalate agitated patients and family members in any area of the hospital, should the need arise. They got out into the community to talk about the work that goes on inside the healing environment at St. Catherine Hospital.

It’s been three years since BHS staff amped up its awareness campaign; and the work is gaining recognition.

Texas-based Horizon Health nominated the hospital for the Customer Service Program of the Year in 2016, Zwiers said. BHS also has a Clinical Program of the Year nomination in sight for 2017, Zwiers said, a Horizon Health award that’s based on uniform measures, such as how ill an individual is when they come in, compared to how well they are when they are discharged.

Horizon Health is the behavioral health management company that partnered with Community Healthcare System to help build and manage psychiatric programs in St. Catherine Hospital’s setting.

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St. Catherine Hospital's BHS program participates in CQI, the uniform outcome measurement initiative that tracks a patient's average length of stay, demographics, patient satisfaction and improvement in psychiatric symptoms from admission to discharge. Outcomes are compared to more than 120 other psychiatric treatment centers around the country.

"Our score for the adult unit on improvement in psychiatric symptoms for the past two years has been running 43 percent higher than the nation,” said BHS Program Director Jake Messing. “Our average length of stay is three days less than the national average. That means our adult patients are showing greater improvement in a shorter period of time. Our patient satisfaction scores are at or above the national norm, as well."

"That’s really remarkable,” Zwiers said. “We are able to take those individuals who are in emergent psychiatric situations, and we're stabilizing them. We're doing it quickly; but most importantly, we're doing it well."

It’s easy to see why the Adult and Older Adult Inpatient Units have had success. Not only is staff dedicated to providing topnotch care to individuals in desperate situations, St. Catherine Hospital has gone above and beyond to provide a relaxing and safe environment.

The Adult Inpatient Unit has been completely renovated to offer a more therapeutic environment with soothing colors and furniture. The same design elements have been carried into the new Older Adult Inpatient Unit which opened a year and a half ago.

“We have had patients come to us involuntarily, and when they get here, sign themselves in voluntarily," Zwiers said. "Some of that has to do with the aesthetics of our hospital wing and how therapeutic it is when you walk in."

The units aren't just aesthetically pleasing. They’re safe. The rooms have been designed in ways to keep patients free from potentially harmful items; and the BHS staff is with the patients at all times to ensure their safety and security.

"Our units may look great, but none of that matters if our outcomes don't match the aesthetic appeal," Zwiers said.

What the rooms do not include is a television, magazines, books or any sort of activity like those. Rather than staying in their room during their time in the inpatient units, patients are encouraged to be involved by going to therapy and getting immersed in their treatment.

A calming environment, duration of the patient's stay and patient involvement in their treatment are just a few examples of dedication by the board-certified staff in providing quality treatment and improving a patient's health. Even so, the nomination by Horizon Health comes as negative stigmas about mental illness linger.

"One way to bring that stigma down is through ongoing education and approaches that categorize mental illness as just that – an illness, disorder or condition, like a torn ACL ligament,” Zwiers said. "That mindset has helped our patients leave us healthier, and have access to follow-up care.”

With an Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program, outpatient Centers for Mental Wellness in East Chicago and Schererville and a mental health nurse practitioner in Community Hospital Outpatient Centre in St. John, the reach extends well out into the community when it comes to medication inquiries and a patients' ongoing care.

For more information about St. Catherine Hospital and Behavioral Health Services of Community Healthcare System, visit https://www.comhs.org/services/behavioral-health.org

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